Richard “Chip” Benson will step down as dean after 10 years at the helm of Yale’s School of Art at the end of this academic year.
He will retire to his studio, where he studies photography printing and builds instruments, clocks and steam engines. A search committee assembled by Yale President Richard Levin to find Benson’s replacement had its first meeting Tuesday, and Levin said he hopes to appoint a new dean soon.
“We won’t be complacent,” he said. “We will want to look for the best leader we can possibly find.”
The school’s faculty applauded Benson’s work as dean, a position he has held since 1996. He oversaw a $26 million renovation of Green Hall and moved the School of Art from the Art and Architecture building to the renovated facility on Chapel Street in 2000. Professors said Benson has worked hard to appeal to various constituencies at the school.
“He has been attentive to all the very diverse parts of the School of Art,” sculpture professor Jessica Stockholder said.
Benson has a relatively unusual background for a dean at Yale. Though he enrolled at Brown University in 1961, he completed just one semester before dropping out to join the U.S. Navy. He studied at the Navy’s U.S. Optical Repair School, where he grew interested in technology.
From there, Benson attended the Arts Students League in New York and later studied figure drawing under Robert Lamb. He also mastered stone carving at the John Stevens Shop in Rhode Island, a shop owned by his father and brother.
He began his career at Yale in 1972, teaching workshops on photographic printing prior to receiving a full-time position as an assistant professor of photography in 1979. Benson rose to a full professorship in 1986, and Levin appointed him dean in 1996. Along with his duties as dean, Benson continues to teach.
Faculty and graduate students said they find Benson “very accessible.”
“Chip is a very energetic dean that is interested in what you bring to the table,” said Henk van Assen, the director of undergraduate studies for art. “I understand why he is leaving, but I am disappointed.”
Michael Roemer, an adjunct film professor, said one of Benson’s strengths as a dean is his ability, while working as an artist, to devote so much time to the work of others.
“I could never do it,” he said “Artists are different. They need special care and attention.”
Benson’s work is exhibited at the Yale University Art Gallery, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Art Institute of Chicago and the prestigious Metropolitan Museum of Art. He has written or co-written several publications, including “A Maritime Album” and “Lay This Laurel.”
He has received numerous awards and distinctions as well. He has earned two Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowships, the Rhode Island Medal Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts and a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, commonly referred to as the “genius grant.”
Benson now lives with wife Barbara Murray Benson in Newport, R.I., although he lives in an apartment in New Haven during the week when he works. They have four children.